OOPS

January 14, 2018


‘He feels really bad’: Civil Defense employee who sparked terror in Hawaii by accidentally triggering ballistic MISSILE warning will be ‘retrained’ say officials after thousands fled to bomb shelters.”

  • The alert was issued to residents’ phones at 8.07am on Saturday morning
  •  It told them to seek shelter and warned of an ‘inbound ballistic missile threat’   
  • It took 38 minutes for a second phone alert to be issued across the state 
  • By then, terrified residents had flocked to shelters and into their garages 
  • Civil Defense employee accidentally hit alert, was unaware until his phone got it
  •  An FCC investigation into the incident is underway, officials said.

A Civil Defense employee is set to be retrained after a shocking blunder on Saturday morning, when a mistaken alert warning of an inbound ballistic missile sent thousands fleeing for shelter. The false alarm was caused by a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee who ‘pushed the wrong buttons’ during an internal drill timed to coincide with a shift handover at 8.07am. The all-clear phone alert was not sent until 38 minutes later.  Incredibly, officials said the employee who made the mistake wasn’t aware of it until mobile phones in the command center began displaying the alert. ‘This guy feels bad, right. He’s not doing this on purpose – it was a mistake on his part and he feels terrible about it,’ said EMA Administrator Vern Miyagi in a press conference Saturday afternoon. Miyagi, a retired Army major general, said the employee had been with the agency for ‘a while’ and that he would be ‘counseled and drilled so this never happens again’ – but stopped short of saying whether there would be disciplinary measures.

He feels terrible about it.  Give me a break.  I do not want to be unkind here and we all make mistakes but this is a big one.   At one time in our history, we had the DEW Line or Distant Early Warning Line.  The DEW Line was a system of radar stations in the far northern Arctic region of Canada, with additional stations along the North Coast and Aleutian Islands of Alaska, in addition to the Faroe Islands,

Greenland, and Iceland.   The DEW line was replaced by The North Warning System and is presently composed of forty-seven (47) unmanned long and short-range radar stations extending across the Northern portion of the North American continent from Labrador to Alaska.  In 1985, it replaced the DEW Line.

In 2014, Raytheon won a five (5) year contract for the North Warning System.  The “system” is basically shown by the following digital:

The system now supports air surveillance under the North American Aerospace Defense Command.  The Federal government says Raytheon had the lowest bid, and provides the best economic benefits for Inuit.

If we take a look at distances and trajectory, we see from the following global map:

The Taepo Dong 3 ICBM missile has a range of approximately 13,000 miles which means the travel times from North Korea to the following sites is within a virtual “blink of an eye”. Based on this link, taking the more conservative speed estimate :

10,500 meters/sec = 23,400 mph (This may be optimistic – 23,000 mph is Mach 30, which is way above the usual ICBM top speed of around Mach 20 at reentry.)

DISTANCES FROM PYONGYANG TO:

To New York = 6,800 miles

To Los Angeles = 5,900 miles

To Houston = 7,000 miles

SO, TIME TAKEN TO REACH:

New York = 17 minutes

Los Angeles = 16 minutes

Houston = 18 minutes

Add maybe ten to fifteen (10 –15) additional minutes to the above times for the rocket to accelerate to max speed, then decelerate on reentry.  With that being the case, we are looking at thirty (30) minutes or less for impact.

What I’m saying; North American Aerospace Defense Command would detect a missile launched from North Korea, provide (hopefully) an almost immediate alert to Hawaii, Guam and the North American continent, THEN the respective individuals in each state or area would sound the alert to their citizens.  WE ABSOLUTELY MUST NOT ALLOW ONE “ALMOST TRAINED” INDIVIDUAL THIS RESPONSIBILITY.  What were we thinking?  What were we thinking.  Our level of complacency in this area is shameful.  Luckily, no one was injured or died of a heart attack as a result of this HUGE error.  The governor of Hawaii seemed to sluff this off as just an OOPS. OOPS is when I lock my keys in my car.  OOPS is when I forget to bring in the mail.  OOPS is when I miss a dental appointment.  This is not really an OOPS.  This is DUMB. We need to fix DUMB.

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Elon Musk has warned again about the dangers of artificial intelligence, saying that it poses “vastly more risk” than the apparent nuclear capabilities of North Korea does. I feel sure Mr. Musk is talking about the long-term dangers and not short-term realities.   Mr. Musk is shown in the digital picture below.

This is not the first time Musk has stated that AI could potentially be one of the most dangerous international developments. He said in October 2014 that he considered it humanity’s “biggest existential threat”, a view he has repeated several times while making investments in AI startups and organizations, including Open AI, to “keep an eye on what’s going on”.  “Got to regulate AI/robotics like we do food, drugs, aircraft & cars. Public risks require public oversight. Getting rid of the FAA would not make flying safer. They’re there for good reason.”

Musk again called for regulation, previously doing so directly to US governors at their annual national meeting in Providence, Rhode Island.  Musk’s tweets coincide with the testing of an AI designed by OpenAI to play the multiplayer online battle arena (Moba) game Dota 2, which successfully managed to win all its 1-v-1 games at the International Dota 2 championships against many of the world’s best players competing for a $24.8m (£19m) prize fund.

The AI displayed the ability to predict where human players would deploy forces and improvise on the spot, in a game where sheer speed of operation does not correlate with victory, meaning the AI was simply better, not just faster than the best human players.

Musk backed the non-profit AI research company OpenAI in December 2015, taking up a co-chair position. OpenAI’s goal is to develop AI “in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return”. But it is not the first group to take on human players in a gaming scenario. Google’s Deepmind AI outfit, in which Musk was an early investor, beat the world’s best players in the board game Go and has its sights set on conquering the real-time strategy game StarCraft II.

Musk envisions a situation found in the movie “i-ROBOT with humanoid robotic systems shown below.  Robots that can think for themselves. Great movie—but the time-frame was set in a future Earth (2035 A.D.) where robots are common assistants and workers for their human owners, this is the story of “robotophobic” Chicago Police Detective Del Spooner’s investigation into the murder of Dr. Alfred Lanning, who works at U.S. Robotics.  Let me clue you in—the robot did it.

I am sure this audience is familiar with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

  • First Law: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • Second Law: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Asimov’s three laws indicate there will be no “Rise of the Machines” like the very popular movie indicates.   For the three laws to be null and void, we would have to enter a world of “singularity”.  The term singularity describes the moment when a civilization changes so much that its rules and technologies are incomprehensible to previous generations. Think of it as a point-of-no-return in history. Most thinkers believe the singularity will be jump-started by extremely rapid technological and scientific changes. These changes will be so fast, and so profound, that every aspect of our society will be transformed, from our bodies and families to our governments and economies.

A good way to understand the singularity is to imagine explaining the internet to somebody living in the year 1200. Your frames of reference would be so different that it would be almost impossible to convey how the internet works, let alone what it means to our society. You are on the other side of what seems like a singularity to our person from the Middle Ages. But from the perspective of a future singularity, we are the medieval ones. Advances in science and technology mean that singularities might happen over periods much shorter than 800 years. And nobody knows for sure what the hell they’ll bring.

Author Ken MacLeod has a character describe the singularity as “the Rapture for nerds” in his novel The Cassini Division, and the turn of phrase stuck, becoming a popular way to describe the singularity. (Note: MacLeod didn’t actually coin this phrase – he says he got the phrase from a satirical essay in an early-1990s issue of Extropy.) Catherynne Valente argued recently for an expansion of the term to include what she calls “personal singularities,” moments where a person is altered so much that she becomes unrecognizable to her former self. This definition could include post-human experiences. Post-human (my words) would describe robotic future.

Could this happen?  Elon Musk has an estimated net worth of $13.2 billion, making him the 87th richest person in the world, according to Forbes. His fortune owes much to his stake in Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), of which he remains CEO and chief product architect. Musk made his first fortune as a cofounder of PayPal, the online payments system that was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.  In other words, he is no dummy.

I think it is very wise to listen to people like Musk and heed any and all warnings they may give. The Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of our country are too busy trying to get reelected to bother with such warnings and when “catch-up” is needed, they always go overboard with rules and regulations.  Now is the time to develop proper and binding laws and regulations—when the technology is new.

HACKED OFF

October 2, 2017


Portions of this post are taken from an article by Rob Spiegel of Design News Daily.

You can now anonymously hire a cybercriminal online for as little as six to ten dollars ($6 to $10) per hour, says Rodney Joffe, senior vice president at Neustar, a cybersecurity company. As it becomes easier to engineer such attacks, with costs falling, more businesses are getting targeted. About thirty-two (32) percent of information technology professionals surveyed said DDoS attacks cost their companies $100,000 an hour or more. That percentage is up from thirty (30) percent reported in 2014, according to Neustar’s survey of over 500 high-level IT professionals. The data was released Monday.

Hackers are costing consumers and companies between $375 and $575 billion, annually, according to a study published this past Monday, a number only expected to grow as online information stealing expands with increased Internet use.  This number blows my mind.   I actually had no idea the costs were so great.  Great and increasing.

Online crime is estimated at 0.8 percent of worldwide GDP, with developed countries in regions including North America and Europe losing more than countries in Latin American or Africa, according to the new study published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and funded by cybersecurity firm McAfee.

That amount rivals the amount of worldwide GDP – 0.9 percent – that is spent on managing the narcotics trade. This difference in costs for developed nations may be due to better accounting or transparency in developed nations, as the cost of online crime can be difficult to measure and some companies do not do disclose when they are hacked for fear of damage to their reputations, the report said.

Cyber attacks have changed in recent years. Gone are the days when relatively benign bedroom hackers entered organizations to show off their skills.  No longer is it a guy in the basement of his or her mom’s home eating Doritos.  Attackers now are often sophisticated criminals who target employees who have access to the organization’s jewels. Instead of using blunt force, these savvy criminals use age-old human fallibility to con unwitting employees into handing over the keys to the vault.  Professional criminals like the crime opportunities they’ve found on the internet. It’s far less dangerous than slinging guns. Cybersecurity is getting worse. Criminal gangs have discovered they can carry out crime more effectively over the internet, and there’s less chance of getting caught.   Hacking individual employees is often the easiest way into a company.  One of the cheapest and most effective ways to target an organization is to target its people. Attackers use psychological tricks that have been used throughout mankind.   Using the internet, con tricks can be carried out on a large scale. The criminals do reconnaissance to find out about targets over email. Then they effectively take advantage of key human traits.

One common attack comes as an email impersonating a CEO or supplier. The email looks like it came from your boss or a regular supplier, but it’s actually targeted to a specific professional in the organization.   The email might say, ‘We’ve acquire a new organization. We need to pay them. We need the company’s bank details, and we need to keep this quiet so it won’t affect our stock price.’ The email will go on to say, ‘We only trust you, and you need to do this immediately.’ The email comes from a criminal, using triggers like flattery, saying, ‘You’re the most trusted individual in the organization.’ The criminals play on authority and create the panic of time pressure. Believe it or not, my consulting company has gotten these messages. The most recent being a hack from Experian.

Even long-term attacks can be launched by using this tactic of a CEO message. “A company in Malaysia received kits purporting to come from the CEO.  The users were told the kit needed to be installed. It took months before the company found out it didn’t come from the CEO at all.

Instead of increased technology, some of the new hackers are deploying the classic con moves, playing against personal foibles. They are taking advantage of those base aspects of human nature and how we’re taught to behave.   We have to make sure we have better awareness. For cybersecurity to be engaging, you have to have an impact.

As well as entering the email stream, hackers are identifying the personal interests of victims on social media. Every kind of media is used for attacks. Social media is used to carry out reconnaissance, to identify targets and learn about them.  Users need to see what attackers can find out about them on Twitter or Facebook. The trick hackers use is to pretend they know the target. Then the get closes through personal interaction on social media. You can look at an organization on Twitter and see who works in finance. Then they take a good look across social platform to find those individuals on social media to see if they go to a class each week or if they traveled to Iceland in 1996.  You can put together a spear-phishing program where you say, Hey I went on this trip with you.

CONCLUSIONS:

The counter-action to personal hacking is education and awareness. The company can identify potential weaknesses and potential targets and then change the vulnerable aspects of the corporate environment.  We have to look at the culture of the organization. Those who are under pressure are targets. They don’t have time to study each email they get. We also have to discourage reliance on email.   Hackers also exploit the culture of fear, where people are punished for their mistakes. Those are the people most in danger. We need to create a culture where if someone makes a mistake, they can immediately come forward. The quicker someone comes forward, the quicker we can deal with it.

IF

September 12, 2017


Like most Americans, I have been greatly saddened by the destruction caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  My heart certainly goes out to all of those who have lost love ones, livelihood, and property.  Let’s quickly take a look at several facts relative to each to see if we can get some idea as to the rebuilding efforts and challenges that may lie ahead.

HARVEY:

  • Category 4 storm that creating $180.00 billion dollars in damage
  • Affected thirteen (13) million people.
  • Will require more than $125.00 billion in Federal relief.
  • As of 12 September, the death toll has reached seventy (70) people.
  • Two feet of rain fell in the first twenty-four (24) hours. Flooding forced 39,000 people out of their homes and into shelters. Dallas created a mega-shelter for 5,000 evacuees out of its main convention center.
  • Total rainfall hit 51.88 inches in Cedar Bayou on the outskirts of Houston. That’s a record for a single storm in the continental United States. “Harvey Broke a National Record Rainfall for a Single Tropical Storm,” Vox, August 30, 2017. Much of Harvey’s damage came from massive rainfall. It created a 1-in-1,000-year flood event. That means nothing of that size has happened within modern recorded history. Flooding covered southeast Texas the size of the state of New Jersey. Thirty inches of rain fell on an area near the coast the size of the state of Maryland. (Source: “Harvey Is a 1,000-year Flood Unprecedented in Scale,” The Washington Post, August 31, 2017.)
  • Hurricane Harvey damaged 203,000 homes, of which 12,700 were destroyed. There were 507,000 people who registered for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The agency delivered 80 tractor-trailer loads of emergency supplies.
  • Federal forces rescued 10,000 people who were trapped in their homes or on flooded highways.
  • In the Gulf area, 1 million vehicles were ruined beyond repair, according to auto data firm Black Book. That includes 300,000 to 500,000 vehicles owned by individuals. (Source: “Harvey May Have Wrecked 1 Million Cars and Trucks,” USA Today, August 31, 2017.

IRMA:

The overall damage from hurricane Irene is yet to be determined but it obviously is in the billions.  Here is what we know to date.

  • Reports indicate that Irma was directly responsible for 49 deaths: five (5) in the Dominican Republic, three (3) in Haiti, and forty-one (41) in the United States. Surprisingly, there were no reported deaths in the Bahamas, where Irene was the strongest.
  • The hurricane’s strongest sustained winds, at 185 mph, blew for more than 65 consecutive hours, something no other tropical cyclone has done in the modern satellite era, which began 50 years ago, according to Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University.
  • Irma’s tropical-storm-force winds and heavy rains resulted in power outages for up to three (3) million U.S. residents.
  • Irma also produced copious amounts of rain in Puerto Rico, with a maximum of 22.05 inches in Gurabo Abajo, which caused major flooding in the northeastern portion of the island.
  • In the United States, the Insurances Services Office reported that the hurricane caused an estimated $4.3 billion in losses. Doubling this figure in an attempt to account for uninsured losses results in an estimated total of $8.6 billion. Based on National Flood Insurance Program data, it is estimated that Irene caused $7.2 billion in losses from inland flooding and storm surge. Using these figures, the total damage estimate is $15.8 billion.
  • With Irma’s projected path fixed over much of the United States East Coast, over 65 million people from the Carolinas to northern New England were estimated to be at risk.
  • The storm paralleled offshore of Hispaniola, continuing to slowly intensify in the process. Shortly before making four landfalls in the Bahamas, Irene peaked as a 120 mph (190 km/h) Category 3 hurricane.
  • More 6.2 million homes in Florida are without power and scores of people have been rescued. More than 160,000 people are thought to be waiting out the storm in shelters across the state.
  • Irma also has one of the lowest pressures, at 914 millibars, ever recorded in a storm, according to Blake.
  • Irma is also one of three hurricanes now formed in the Atlantic Ocean, something that has not happened in seven years. It is followed by Hurricane Jose, which was upgraded to Category 3 yesterday, though it is unclear whether that storm will hit the United States.
  • Irma is over four (400) hundred miles across.

As I mentioned, most of the data relative to lives lost and the cost of damage are still much too early to announce for Irma.  The good news is–Americans are extremely resilient, hard-working and with great supports systems.  Those effected will rebuild.

One of my favorite writers is Rudyard Kipling. His poem IF defines and describes the American people and the American spirit much better than I ever could.

 IF

If you can keep your head when all about you

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


The publication EfficientGov indicates the following: “The opioid crisis is creating a workforce epidemic leading to labor shortage and workplace safety and performance challenges.”

Opioid-related deaths have reached an all-time high in the United States. More than 47,000 people died in 2014, and the numbers are rising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month released prescribing guidelines to help primary care physicians safely treat chronic pain while reducing opioid dependency and abuse. Given that the guidelines are not binding, how will the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services make sure they make a difference? What can payers and providers do to encourage a countrywide culture shift?

The opioid epidemic is also having widespread effects on many industries relative to labor shortages, workplace safety and worker performance.  Managers and owners are trying to figure out methods to deal with drug-addicted workers and job applicants.  HR managers cite the opioid crisis as one of their biggest challenges. Applicants are unwilling or unable to pass drug tests, employees are increasingly showing signs of addiction on the job and there are workers with opioid prescriptions having significant performance problems.

Let’s take a very quick look at only three employers and what they say about the crisis.

  • Clyde McClellan used to require a drug test before people could work at his Ohio pottery company, which produces 2,500 hand-cast coffee mugs a day for Starbucks and others. Now, he skips the tests and finds it more efficient to flat-out ask applicants: “What are you on?”
  • At Homer Laughlin China, a company that makes a colorful line of dishware known as Fiesta and employs 850 at a sprawling complex in Newell, W.V., up to half of applicants either fail or refuse to take mandatory pre-employment drug screens, said company president Liz McIlvain. “The drugs are so cheap and they’re so easily accessible,” McIlvain, a fourth-generation owner of the company, said. “We have a horrible problem here.”
  • “That is really the battlefield for us right now,” said Markus Dietrich,global manager of employee assistance and work-life services at chemical giant DuPont, which employs 46,000 worldwide.

As you might suspect, the epidemic is having a devastating effect on companies — large and small — and their ability to stay competitive. Managers and owners across the country are at a loss in how to deal with addicted workers and potential workers, calling the issue one of the biggest problems they face. Applicants are increasingly unwilling or unable to pass drug tests; then there are those who pass only to show signs of addiction once employed. Even more confounding: how to respond to employees who have a legitimate prescription for opioids but whose performance slips.  There are those individuals who have a need for pain-killers and to deny them would be difficult, but how do you deal with this if you are a manager and fear issues and potential law suites when there is over use?

The issue is amplifying labor shortages in industries like trucking, which has had difficulty for the last six (6) years finding qualified workers and drivers.  It is also pushing employers to broaden their job searches, recruiting people from greater distances when roles can’t be filled with local workers. At stake is not only safety and productivity within companies — but the need for humans altogether, with some manufacturers claiming opioids force them to automate work faster.

One corporate manager said: “You’re going to see manufacturing jobs slowly going away for, if nothing else, that reason alone.   “It’s getting worse, not better.”

Economists have noticed also. In Congressional testimony earlier this month, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen related opioid use to a decline in the labor participation rate. The past three Fed surveys on the economy, known as the Beige Book, explicitly mentioned employers’ struggles in finding applicants to pass drug tests as a barrier to hiring. The surveys, snapshots of economic conditions in the Fed’s twelve (12) districts, don’t mention the type of drugs used.   A Congressional hearing in June of this year focused on opioids and their economic consequences, Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine estimated that forty (40) percent of applicants in the state either failed or refused a drug test. This prevents people from operating machinery, driving a truck or getting a job managing a McDonald’s, he said.

OK, what should a manufacturer do to lessen or hopefully eliminate the problem?  There have been put forth several suggestions, as follows:

Policy Option 1: Medical Education– Opioid education is crucial at all levels, from medical school and residency, through continuing education; and must involve primary care, specialists, mental health providers, pharmacies, emergency departments, clinics and patients. The push to increase opioid education must come from medical schools, academic medical centers, accrediting organizations and possibly state legislatures.

Policy Option 2: Continuing Medical Education– Emphasize the importance of continuing medical education (CME) for practicing physicians. CME can be strengthened by incorporating the new CDC guidelines, and physicians should learn when and how to safely prescribe these drugs and how to handle patients with drug-seeking behavior.

Policy Option 3: Public Education– Emphasize the need to address patient demand, not just physician supply, for opioids. It compared the necessary education to the campaign to reduce demand for antibiotics. The public needs to learn about the harms as well as the benefits of these powerful painkillers, and patients must understand that their pain can be treated with less-dangerous medications, or nonpharmacological interventions like physical therapy or acupuncture. Such education could be spearheaded by various physician associations and advocacy groups, with support from government agencies and officials at HHS and elsewhere.

Policy Option 4: Removing Perverse Incentives and Payment Barriers– Prescribing decisions are influenced by patient satisfaction surveys and insurance reimbursement practices, participants said. Patient satisfaction surveys are perceived — not necessarily accurately — as making it harder for physicians to say “no” to patients who are seeking opioids. Long-standing insurance practices, such as allowing only one pain prescription to be filled a month, are also encouraging doctors to prescribe more pills than a patient is likely to need — adding to the risk of overuse, as well as chance of theft, sale or other diversion of leftover drugs.

Policy Option 5: Solutions through Technology– Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP) and Electronic Health Records (EHR) could be important tools in preventing opioid addiction, but several barriers stand in the way. The PDMP data are incomplete; for instance, a physician in Washington, D.C., can’t see whether a patient is also obtaining drugs in Maryland or Virginia. The records are not user friendly; and they need to be integrated into EHRs so doctors can access them both — without additional costs piled on by the vendors. It could be helpful if certain guidelines, like defaults for dosing and prescribing, were baked into the electronic records.

Policy Option 6: Access to addiction treatment and reducing stigma—There is a need to change how the country thinks about — and talks about — addiction and mental illness. Substance abuse treatment suffers when people with addiction are treated as criminals or deviants. Instead, substance abuse disorder should be treated as an illness, participants recommended. High deductibles in health plans, including Obamacare exchange plans, create another barrier to substance abuse treatment.

CONCLUSIONS:  I don’t really know how we got here but we are a country with a very very “deep bench”.  We know how to do things, so let’s put all of our resources together to solve this very troublesome problem.

WHO IS MITCH RAPP

June 7, 2017


I have had the great opportunity to travel to several countries over my not-too-short-lifetime.  Most of that travel has been for business purposes but even though you are engaged for long periods of time you do pick up various indications relative to culture, even pop culture.  In my opinion, we here in the United States and the western world have by far the very best heroes.   Literature and certainly the entertainment professions are replete with men and women selected to “save us all”.  I’m not too sure if this is good or bad.  Maybe we are looking for that “white knight” to ride in and solve all of our problems then ride off leaving us happy and forever content.  I personally feel that white knight may be found by looking in a mirror.

At any rate, the list below is just a partial list of “heroes” we look for to write all wrongs, deliver us from alien invaders, purge our country from evil—you get the picture.

  • James Bond
  • Jason Bourne
  • John Wick
  • Neo and Morpheus
  • Katniss Everdeen
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Philip Marlowe
  • Ripley
  • Wonder Woman
  • Captain America
  • Iron Man
  • Han Solo
  • Luke Skywalker
  • Rocky Balboa
  • Harry Potter
  • The Terminator
  • Jimmy Lee Swagger
  • Jack Reacher
  • Mitch Rapp

I would like to concentrate on the last one—Mitch Rapp.  Mr. Vince Flynn created Mitch Rapp and penned the following action-packed novels with him as the main character.

  • American Assassin (Mitch Rapp #1) (2010) ​ ISBN 9781416595182
  • Kill Shot (Mitch Rapp #2) (2012) ​ ISBN 9781416595205
  • Transfer of Power (Mitch Rapp #3) (1999) ​ ISBN 0671023195
  • The Third Option (Mitch Rapp #4) (2000) ​ ISBN 0671047310
  • Separation of Power (Mitch Rapp #5) (2001) ISBN 0671047337
  • Executive Power (Mitch Rapp #6) (2002) ​ ISBN 0743453956
  • Memorial Day (Mitch Rapp #7) (2004) ​ ISBN 0743453972
  • Consent to Kill (Mitch Rapp #8) (2005) ​ ISBN 0743270363
  • Act of Treason (Mitch Rapp #9) (2006) ​ ISBN 0743270371
  • Protect and Defend (Mitch Rapp #10) (2007) ​ ISBN 9780743270410
  • Extreme Measures (Mitch Rapp #11) (2008) ​ ISBN 9781416599395
  • Pursuit of Honor (Mitch Rapp #12) (2009) ​ ISBN 978141659516
  • The Last Man (Mitch Rapp #13) (2012) ​ ISBN 9781416595212
  • The Survivor (Mitch Rapp #14) (2015) ​ ISBN 9781476783451
  • Order To Kill (Mitch Rapp #15) (2016) ​ ISBN 9781476783482
  • Enemy Of The State (Mitch Rapp #16) (2017) ​ ISBN 9781476783512
  • Term Limits (not part of Mitch Rapp series) (1997) ​ ISBN 0671023179

I have read most of Mr. Flynn’s novels involving Rapp and I can tell you he is a most interesting man.

Mitch Rapp attended Syracuse University, where he majored in international business and minored in French. He attended Syracuse on a lacrosse scholarship and became an All-American due to his amazing speed and aggressive style of play. Rapp was also offered a scholarship by the University of North Carolina, but turned that down because his high school sweetheart Maureen was attending Syracuse.  Rapp had known Maureen since he was sixteen years old.  She was tragically killed in the December 21, 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  One of thirty-five (35) Syracuse students died that day while returning from a semester overseas.

Nearly a year after Maureen’s death, Rapp was recruited into the CIA by Irene Kennedy. He began training the week after graduating from Syracuse. Only twenty-three years old at the time, Rapp did not go through the standard CIA training program at “The Farm,” outside Williamsburg, Virginia. Instead, for a year straight he was shuttled from one location to the next, sometimes spending a week, sometimes a month. The bulk of the training was handled by Stan Hurley, a former CIA operative, who taught him “how to shoot, stab, blow things up, and even kill with his bare hands.” In other words, he was schooled in firearms and marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, and explosives. Endurance was stressed. There were long swims and even longer runs. Between all the heavy lifting, they worked on his foreign language skills. Since he had minored in French at Syracuse, within a month at the CIA he was fluent in the language. He was then taught Arabic and Persian and could passably speak Urdu and Pashto. He also spoke German and Italian. He is ambidextrous, but naturally left-handed.

Rapp then became an operative of the Orion Team, a highly secretive organization supported by the CIA but definitely outside the Agency. It is funded by money diverted from congressionally funded programs. The job of the Orion Team in a nutshell is to take the war to the terrorists. It was formed in response to the Lockerbie disaster by the then CIA director of operations Thomas Stansfield. The unit operates in secret, independent, national security apparatus and circumvents the leviathan of politics that bypasses impediments like the executive order banning assassinations. The team is headed by Rapp’s recruiter, Irene Kennedy, whose official role is as director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.

Rapp has been the Orion Team’s star operative almost from the day he started and has been honed into the most effective counterterrorism operative in America’s arsenal. He’s spent significant amounts of time in Europe, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia collecting intelligence and when the situation called for it, dealing with threats in a more final manner.

Officially, Rapp has nothing to do with the U.S. government; rather, he is referred to in the business as a private contractor. Rapp lives a life completely separate from the Agency. His cover is that of a successful entrepreneur. With the help of the CIA, he runs a small computer consulting business on the side that just happens to do a fair amount of international business, which gives him the cover to travel frequently. To keep things legitimate, Rapp often does indeed conduct business while abroad.

One of Rapp’s aliases is Mitch Kruse. In the special ops community, he is often known only by his call sign, “Iron Man” after the annual Ironman Triathlon in which he has participated on several occasions and has twice won. His only remaining family is his brother, Steven Rapp, a millionaire financial genius. Mitch and Steven grew up in McLean, Virginia.

Throughout the books, Rapp works with several special operations units including Navy SEALs and DEVGRUDelta ForceAir Force Special Operations Command, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). He also has close ties with “SEAL Demolition and Salvage Corporation”, a private military company specializing in underwater salvage such as getting rid of debris for ports and shipyards and training law enforcement divers, but whose employees also work from time to time as freelance operatives for the CIA. The company is owned and operated by Scott Coleman, former commanding officer of SEAL Team Six and friend of Rapp.

Flynn has crafted a remarkably complex character and has the ability to put that character in situations you would expect a “normal individual” to die from.  He has the uncanny ability to weave a story line that has one surprise after another.  This is truly a remarkable feat.  I love his books for this reason and one more—he is a master craftsman with words.  Truly gifted.

One caution—read “The American Assassin” first.  This book gives you the background or Rapp beginning with his days at Syracuse.  It takes you through all of the training used to produce a lethal weapon.  I strongly recommend the Mitch Rapp series for your summer reading.

RISE OF THE MACHINES

March 20, 2017


Movie making today is truly remarkable.  To me, one of the very best parts is animation created by computer graphics.  I’ve attended “B” movies just to see the graphic displays created by talented programmers.  The “Terminator” series, at least the first movie in that series, really captures the creative essence of graphic design technology.  I won’t replay the movie for you but, the “terminator” goes back in time to carry out its prime directive—Kill John Conner.  The terminator, a robotic humanoid, has decision-making capability as well as human-like mobility that allows the plot to unfold.  Artificial intelligence or AI is a fascinating technology many companies are working on today.  Let’s get a proper definition of AI as follows:

“the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”

Question:  Are Siri, Cortana, and Alexa eventually going to be more literate than humans? Anyone excited about the recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning should also be concerned about human literacy as well. That’s according to Protect Literacy , a global campaign, backed by education company Pearson, aimed at creating awareness and fighting against illiteracy.

Project Literacy, which has been raising awareness for its cause at SXSW 2017, recently released a report, “ 2027: Human vs. Machine Literacy ,” that projects machines powered by AI and voice recognition will surpass the literacy levels of one in seven American adults in the next ten (10) years. “While these systems currently have a much shallower understanding of language than people do, they can already perform tasks similar to simple text search task…exceeding the abilities of millions of people who are nonliterate,” Kate James, Project Literacy spokesperson and Chief Corporate Affairs and Global Marketing Officer at Pearson, wrote in the report. In light of this the organization is calling for “society to commit to upgrading its people at the same rate as upgrading its technology, so that by 2030 no child is born at risk of poor literacy.”  (I would invite you to re-read this statement and shudder in your boots as I did.)

While the past twenty-five (25) years have seen disappointing progress in U.S. literacy, there have been huge gains in linguistic performance by a totally different type of actor – computers. Dramatic advances in natural language processing (Hirschberg and Manning, 2015) have led to the rise of language technologies like search engines and machine translation that “read” text and produce answers or translations that are useful for people. While these systems currently have a much shallower understanding of language than people do, they can already perform tasks similar to the simple text search task above – exceeding the abilities of millions of people who are nonliterate.

According to the National National Centre for Education Statistics machine literacy has already exceeded the literacy abilities of the estimated three percent (3%) of non-literate adults in the US.

Comparing demographic data from the Global Developer Population and Demographic Study 2016 v2 and the 2015 Digest of Education Statistics finds there are more software engineers in the U.S. than school teachers, “We are focusing so much on teaching algorithms and AI to be better at language that we are forgetting that fifty percent (50%)  of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level,” Project Literacy said in a statement.  I retired from General Electric Appliances.   Each engineer was required to write, or at least the first draft, of the Use and Care Manuals for specific cooking products.  We were instructed to 1.) Use plenty of graphic examples and 2.) Write for a fifth-grade audience.  Even with that, we know from experience that many consumers never use and have no intention of reading their Use and Care Manual.  With this being the case, many of the truly cool features are never used.  They may as well buy the most basic product.

Research done by Business Insider reveals that thirty-two (32) million Americans cannot currently read a road sign. Yet at the same time there are ten (10) million self-driving cars predicted to be on the roads by 2020. (One could argue this will further eliminate the need for literacy, but that is debatable.)  If we look at literacy rates for the top ten (10) countries on our planet we see the following:

Citing research from Venture Scanner , Project Literacy found that in 2015 investment in AI technologies, including natural language processing, speech recognition, and image recognition, reached $47.2 billion. Meanwhile, data on US government spending shows that the 2017 U.S. Federal Education Budget for schools (pre-primary through secondary school) is $40.4 billion.  I’m not too sure funding for education always goes to benefit students education. In other words, throwing more money at this problem may not always provide desired results, but there is no doubt, funding for AI will only increase.

“Human literacy levels have stalled since 2000. At any time, this would be a cause for concern, when one in ten people worldwide…still cannot read a road sign, a voting form, or a medicine label,” James wrote in the report. “In popular discussion about advances in artificial intelligence, it is easy

CONCLUSION:  AI will only continue to advance and there will come a time when robotic systems will be programmed with basic decision-making skills.  To me, this is not only fascinating but more than a little scary.

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